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Ethiopia Declares Unilateral Cease-fire in Tigray

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FILE - Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 8, 2021.

Ethiopia's government has declared a unilateral cease-fire in its Tigray region as its former governing party and troops entered the regional capital, Mekelle, prompting cheers from residents.

The Ethiopian government made the announcement on state media late Monday, saying the cease-fire would take effect immediately. It follows nearly eight months of conflict in the region.

VOA journalists in Mekelle said they have not seen government soldiers in the city since Sunday.

Rebel troops from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which previously governed the region, announced on the party radio that their forces have entered Mekelle. Reports from the region say residents celebrated in the streets.

"The capital of Tigray, Mekelle, is under our control," Getachew Reda, a TPLF spokesperson, told Reuters by satellite phone Monday night.

FILE - A house is destroyed during one of the battles fought for the control of the town of Hawzen, Tigray, in Ethiopia, on June 6, 2021. (VOA/Yan Boechat)
FILE - A house is destroyed during one of the battles fought for the control of the town of Hawzen, Tigray, in Ethiopia, on June 6, 2021. (VOA/Yan Boechat)

The Ethiopian prime minister's spokesperson and the military's spokesperson did not respond to phone calls and messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Agence France-Presse reports the TPLF launched a major offensive last week and cited an interim government official Monday who said the fighters were closing in on the city when government troops left.

There was no immediate comment on the cease-fire from neighboring Eritrea, and it was unclear if Eritrean troops were still in the region. Tigray residents have accused Eritrean troops of carrying out atrocities in the region.

Monday's developments come after the Tigray interim administration, appointed by the federal government, called for a cease-fire to allow aid to be delivered to thousands of people facing famine in the region.

A government statement carried by state media said the cease-fire would allow farmers to till their land and aid groups to operate without the presence of military troops. It said the cease-fire would last until the end of the farming season but did not give a specific date. The country's main planting season lasts through September.

FILE - Displaced Tigrayans queue to receive food at the Hadnet General Secondary School, which has become a makeshift home to thousands displaced by the conflict, in Mekelle, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 5, 2021.
FILE - Displaced Tigrayans queue to receive food at the Hadnet General Secondary School, which has become a makeshift home to thousands displaced by the conflict, in Mekelle, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 5, 2021.

The United Nations says the nearly 8-month-old conflict in Tigray has pushed 350,000 people to the brink of famine, calling it the world's worst famine crisis in a decade.

Three nations, the U.S., Ireland and Britain, called late Monday for an emergency, public meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The session could be held Friday, but the date and time are up to Estonia, which holds the security council presidency. Other countries could vote to nullify the meeting, however.

On Monday, the United Nations children's agency said Ethiopian soldiers entered its office in Mekelle and dismantled satellite communications equipment.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement, "This act violates U.N. privileges and immunities. … We are not, and should never be, a target."

Violence in the Tigray region had intensified last week after a military airstrike on a town north of Mekelle killed more than 60 people.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused Ethiopian authorities of blocking ambulances from reaching victims of the strike.

An Ethiopian military spokesman said only combatants, not civilians, were hit in the strike.

Fighting between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF broke out in November, leaving thousands of civilians dead and forcing more than 2 million people from their homes. Troops from Eritrea, Ethiopia's neighbor to the north, and Amhara, a neighboring region to the south of Tigray, also entered the conflict in support of the Ethiopian government.

VOA's Horn of Africa Service contributed to this report. This article contains content from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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